TIFF 2017: One of Us (2017, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady)

Categories: 2017 and Movies.

I have seen a few Ewing-Grady documentaries so far and I have always found they tackle fascinating subjects but I have never loved the way in which they tackle them. Though I appreciate their attempts at breaking outside of documentary norms and customs (to a degree) I also sometimes find their attempts to do so a little too flashy, for lack of a better word. (What I am trying to say is that I find that their style often calls attention to itself, which is not always something I like in documentaries.) One of Us definitely contains stylistic flashes that call Read More

Cocaine Cowboys (2006, Billy Corben)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

I have heard about this film from a number of people and wonder if we watched the same movie. This is a poorly made film that absolutely reeks of early digital technology (even if 2006 would suggest it wasn’t made with early digital technology). Why is it that so many people are okay with watching movies that look like they were assembled in somebody’s basement? Read More

Citizenfour (2014, Laura Poitras)

Categories: Movies.

Like many of you, I paid attention to the Snowden leaks when they came out – as much attention as I could – and have followed The Intercept and others about the surveillance state since that time. But, on the other hand, my process of making my own life less accessible to the surveillance state has been a case of one step forward, one step back: every time I do something to make my life more private, I stop doing it after a few days or weeks. (Though I do pay for most things in cash and don’t own a Read More

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015, Ilinca Calugareanu)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a brief, by-the-numbers documentary which combines talking heads with rote dramatizations to tell the powerful story of how American films changed life in Romania during the Cold War. Unfortunately, I already saw Hotel Dallas, a far more interesting (albeit difficult) film more or less about the same theme. This pales in comparison. That’s not to say it’s worth watching, just that I would choose Hotel Dallas over this film if you want to know about the impact of American culture in Romania in the 80s. It’s far more interesting and provocative. 6/10 Read More

Casting By (2012, Tom Donahue)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This documentary starts off as a PSA or apologia for casting directors. However, it improves quickly when it narrows its focus to Marion Dougherty and one other director. There are lots of interviews with famous Hollywood stars and it’s interesting to know how some of these people got their first film roles. The film is very much a TV documentary and feels a little too much like an advocacy film for casting directors, but it’s reasonably informative and interesting and worth your time if you’re into Hollywood. 6/10 Read More

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008, Stefan Forbes)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is a TV-quality documentary that offers a lot of insight into the man it’s about, but also the South and modern American politics. There’s a lot here to chew on that’s worthwhile. But, there’s also a number of problems, including a lack of context for non-American viewers and an odd structure that veers between straight-chronological and episodic. The lessons of Atwater’s life, if there are any, are extremely relevant to the US today so, for that reason alone, this is worth watching. 7/10 Read More

Blank City (2010, Celine Danhler)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This film chronicles the rise and fall of No Wave (the movies, not so much the music), New Cinema and the Cinema of Transgression in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to interviews with the filmmakers and stars, it features a number of famous people (some directors and musicians, an actor or two) who you will recognize. If this documentary has a thesis, it is that these movements created independent film, which is bullshit and extremely New York-centric and maybe that’s why I didn’t love it. It’s in depth and it tells the story reasonably well Read More

Amanda Knox (2016, Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

If you are like me, you paid little attention to all the stuff around Amanda Knox, the American 20-something who supposedly killed her roommate because of her deviant sexual interests and other odd interests and beliefs. If you’re like me, you didn’t even know what she was supposed to have done, beyond murder, because I don’t follow these kinds of stories. But, if you’re like me, you knew she was guilty, because the media told you she was guilty for years and years. And wasn’t she convicted before she returned to the US? SPOILERS to follow, if you knew as Read More

ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail (2016, Steve James)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

This film is about the only bank – the only bank! – to be indicted for mortgage fraud in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It tells the story of a bank in New York City’s Chinatown which detected loan fraud, fired the employee responsible, reported the fraud to their regulator, fired additional employees when more fraud was discovered, and then was prosecuted by the District Attorney of New York City, because some of the fraudulent loans were sold to Fannie Mae, where they made money. Read More

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015, Stanley Nelson)

Categories: 2015, Movies, and Society.

Age is a funny thing. I watched this movie months ago, perhaps more than that, on Netflix and forgot to review it (I think!), forgot to rate it, both things I do religiously. And then I got it from the library this week. When I started watching it (because Olympic golf is on!) I got the strongest sense of deja vu. I remember it being a pretty thorough examination of an important and complicated part of US history. It’s a standard documentary but it’s educational and it’s a story that needs to be told. I will say that I always Read More

The Blue Planet (2001)

Categories: 2001 and TV.

This is a beautiful nature documentary about the world’s oceans. Having watched the excellent Planet Earth earlier, this feels like a bit of a let down, just because I think Planet Earth is more magnificent. That isn’t the fault of The Blue Planet, but I can’t help feeling some deja vu and also, that the production values improved on the more ambitious one. But this is still great to look at and reasonably informative. 8/10 Read More

1971 (2014, Johanna Hamilton)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is an interesting, albeit brief, look at a crime in 1971 that resulted in the first ever whistle blowing on the American government (to my knowledge, anyway). A bunch of radical hippies broke into an FBI office and released the files to the press and Congress. The film is your standard talking heads + pictures documentary (with the exception of some brief reenactments) but its value is in the story which had never been told previously (at least on film). Fascinating stuff, and relevant given the state of affairs today. 7/10 Read More

The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young (2014, Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane)

Categories: 2014, Movies, and Sports.

This is a very conventional documentary about one of the craziest races you’ll ever hear about. Not only is it insane (somewhere between 100 and 130 miles in 60 hours, over hills and through the woods) but is run in such a kooky way. Part of the appeal of this film is the sheer accomplishment of these people – I could never do anything like this, I’d merely be able to complete 1 loop walking and then I’d be done like dinner. But the other part is the sheer kooky traditions of the race – the conch shell that gives Read More

Tickled (2016, David Farrier, Dylan reeve)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

It’s rare for me to see a movie that shocks me, that leaves me unable to process what I’ve seen for hours afterward. But this is one such movie. The GF and I kept having parts of conversations for hours afterward where we attempted and failed to process what we had seen. You should see this if you’re interested in human behaviour, in how the internet changes behavour, in true crime or in real life mysteries. But I also strongly suggest you do not learn anything about the film before you see it. Just know that it’s not really about Read More

Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008, Chris Bell)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is an entertaining and thought provoking documentary about steroids in particular, and performance-enhancing drugs in general, in the US. The filmmaker uses the often annoying framing device of how the filmmaker and his family is affected by the issue, but here it actually works as it turns out the family is a bit of a microcosm of American society at large. This movie raises many legitimate questions about why steroids in sports are bad, when numerous other substances are legal when either the health risks are worse or they are just as “performance enhancing.” It’s well worth it if Read More

The Witness (2016, James D. Solomon)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

We’ve all heard the story of the woman who was murdered in New York City in sight of thirty eight people who did nothing, a story that told us all of the moral degradation of modern urban society. Well, this movie is about her brother, his quest to find out what really happened, and to finally come to terms with the death of his sister. SPOILERS Read More

Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012, Robert B. Weide)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

Putting aside the possible moral objection some may have to Woody Allen, this is a decent summary of his career as a filmmaker (and, before that, as a comedian). It’s a little odd in its approach, given that the first “half” (I watched it on Netflix) is fairly chronological, but the second part is less so. It’s not particularly critical – everyone who is interviewed is an admirer – but given his oeuvre and his importance in the history of American cinema, I think we could normally excuse that. But for me, the reason this is not the film it Read More

Big Bays Gone Bananas (2011, Fredrick Gertten)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

Regardless of what you think of Fredrick Gertten’s Bananas!* (a film I was skeptical of in part because of the film itself and, likely, in part, because of Dole’s campaign of defamation against Mr. Gertten), I doubt you believe that it should be censored (especially if you’ve never seen it). I have seen lots of terrible documentaries, and seen lots of nonsense on the internet but never have I demanded that the content be suppressed. Read More

Bhutto (2010, Duane Baughman, Johnny O’Hara)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

One of the defining characteristics of human beings that is that we are flawed, imperfect creatures. All the “Great Men” of history were actually just human beings; sometimes they did things we might view as great, but they had their problems. There isn’t a single major political leader in history who hasn’t done something awful. Read More

Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger (2014, Joe Berlinger)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Somebody once said, it’s not integrity that matters, it’s the perception of integrity. One of the reasons people freak out at the more minor of political scandals – the ones where there are only hints of impropriety, or where bureaucrats or politicians are accused of over-spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when the budget is in the billions or higher – is that the assumption of integrity, the appearance of integrity is violated. We are supposed to be able to trust our government and the perception of corruption is, in some ways just as bad as corruption itself. Read More

Iris (2014, Albert Maysles)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I struggle to view fashion as a true art. I don’t wear clothes so people will look at me or think about me. I wear clothes because of social convention and because I live in Canada. But as I get older I recognize that a substation section of the population does view clothes as art. And some of these people have interesting things to say. One of these people is Iris Apfel, New York “style icon.” She’s an interesting woman and I can see the appeal. The film around her is kind of directionless, like so many of these movies Read More

Merchants of Doubt (2014, Robert Kenner)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This is a compelling film about how corporations and lobby groups use pundits to undermine scientific consensuses that would otherwise hurt their profits. The examines the bag of tricks both the tobacco industry and the oil industry have used to fool the American public about both the short and long term health risks of the use of their products, including making the conversation about economics, not science, and outright lying about scientific studies and consensus. Read More